/ 30 September 2011

Men in black cast shadow on Premiership

The men in black are in the spotlight again — and all for the wrong reasons. There has been such a sharp increase in the number of shocking decisions taken by referees in the South African Premiership, perhaps an inquiry into the general officiating of local matches is required.

Incensed Bidvest Wits coach Roger de Sa did not mince his words in an interview recently, blasting the men in black and claiming that had it not been for the poor decisions handed to his team in their opening five matches, they could be occupying a much higher position on the log table.

“The situation is quite sickening,” wailed De Sa. “Whether it’s incompetence, intimidation or whatever,” he told the Sunday Tribune, “I don’t know. And it’s not just Wits that are suffering the short end of the stick.

“For example, Orlando Pirates could have been awarded two penalties against Kaizer Chiefs. To add salt to the wound, when Pirates striker Bongani Ndulula was upended in a promising position, he was handed a yellow card for simulation.”

In a league game featuring Cosmos against AmaZulu on September 13, Themba Shabalala’s crude tackle on Ayanda Dlamini could have broken the AmaZulu man’s leg and ended his career, but he was handed a yellow card when a red would have been in order.

The stakes have become high in the South African Premiership, little wonder it now attracts players from all over Africa.

Salaries are decent enough to see even South African players abandoning their European dreams and flocking back home to a league now considered the seventh most commercially successful in the world.

Yet, while the quality of the players is attracting a sizeable number of bums on seats weekly, the incompetence of referees’ decision-making could prevent the organisation from realising its true potential.

Daniel Bennett, Jerome Damon and Lwandile Mfiki all failed a Confederation of African Football fitness test and were suspended from officiating locally and internationally.
A fortnight ago, Bennett and Mfiki sailed through a Fifa test in Blantyre, Malawi. Damon suffered a hamstring injury and had to withdraw.

“The imbalances that I am seeing,” confessed Alpha Mnchunu, who chairs the National Referees’ Committee, “are certainly not something to be happy about. Things have certainly not gone according to our expectations.”

Structures and organisations
A sequence of shocking decision by a group of newly promoted referees sparked a cacophony of calls for drastic measures to be taken to overhaul referee structures and establish an organisation consisting of an elite body of professional referees.

“The project to assemble an elite group of professional referees was mooted two years ago,” says Mnchunu.

“We even went to England at the recommendation of [distinguished referee] David Elleray for a thorough research of its system and spoke to various people including the chairman of the referees association.

“We learned how it established a system built on international standards which promoted from grassroots to professional level. We presented our findings to the South African Football Association/Premier Soccer League Joint Liaison Committee.

“The committee agreed that if going professional would add value to our game, then let it be the way to go. But first we had to deal with issues relating to provident fund, remuneration and so forth.”

However, with incorrect decisions becoming common practice, Mnchunu was asked whether the review committee had the power to rescind a decision which, on review, everybody agreed was incorrect.

“The review committee handles a number of recommendations and falls under the technical, appointment and development committees,” said Mnchunu.

“If the review committee finds that a referee has failed to perform, he is then ‘rested’ for two to three weeks.

“He will undergo a mentoring programme during that period. However, before he returns to handle high-profile matches, he will be first assigned matches in the first division to help him regain his sharpness.”

Twenty-one new referees, including a woman, have been promoted to handle high-level and professional matches.

But there is no doubt that the failure of three highly decorated referees to pass their fitness examination last month has seriously affected the image of the South African refereeing fraternity, a fraternity always held in high esteem by Caf and Fifa.